CHICAGO – The Chicago White Sox shook a giant snow globe this winter, and when the bits and pieces finally came to rest Monday afternoon, it showed a perfectly balanced scene.
New leadoff man Adam Eaton was wreaking havoc just as he was expected to do, new middle-of-the-order threat Jose Abreu was hitting line drives all over the ballpark, and five-tool outfielder Avisail Garcia was making his presence felt.
All three players, now the face of the team’s youth movement, had two hits, and in the early going the White Sox had a carousel of players rounding the bases.
The holdovers also had their say in the 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins, as Chris Sale pitched a solid 7 1/3 innings, Alejandro De Aza hit two home runs after getting the start in left field over Dayan Viciedo, and Alexei Ramirez also had two hits.
There was solid defense, and nobody made a fool out of himself on the basepaths. The bullpen wasn’t dominating by any means, but pitched well enough to finish off the victory, with new closer Matt Lindstrom collecting the save despite giving up balls to the warning track to the first two batters he faced.
On Monday, things worked just as the White Sox hoped they would. Now comes the chore of repeating it for an entire season.
“Guys will struggle,” general manager Rick Hahn said before the game. “I don’t know which one of the new guys will stutter at some point, but inevitably it will happen. As we all know, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand had to go back to the minors before they became established big leaguers. Development is not linear.
“Sometimes there are fits and starts, and sometimes guys pick up right where they left off in the minors or in a foreign league. But we do feel we’re getting to a point in the organization where we had some depth, which provides us with some depth and some insulation should we need to make changes. For now, we’re going to roll with some of these young guys and see how quickly they can fulfill that potential.”
Nothing is fulfilled as of now, and Monday was merely the tiniest of sample sizes. But it was a best-case scenario fulfilled for game No. 1.
“They did great,” manager Robin Ventura said of his young players. “You have Chris going out and doing what he does; he was great today. I think he controlled his emotions of opening the first game and going out there and really putting us in a position to win. And the young guys, they were exciting and I think again the conditions, you really had to concentrate, and for us to play a clean game defensively is big. It’s just a step in the right direction.”
It’s not realistic to think that De Aza will be able to hit two home runs a night, but it is reasonable to think Eaton can reach base twice a game more often than not, while Abreu can make solid contact to all fields.
Abreu’s first-inning double and third-inning RBI single were nice pieces of hitting, but more impressive was his ability to hit line drives to right field (his double), left field (his single) and center field (two loud outs in the later innings).
“This guy, he can do it all,” De Aza said of Abreu. “He can do it all and I'm happy to be on the team with him. I'm having fun.”
Abreu’s serious approach and his dedication to his craft made the success of his first game far from surprising. But it wasn’t as easy as rolling out of bed and letting his spring preparation do all of the work. It was not lost on the Cuba native just how big of a deal his first game in Major League Baseball really was.
“Concentration,” Abreu said through a translator when asked how he dealt with the moment. “That’s the only way to deal with this. As long as you’re concentrating on the team you avoid all that.
“There was no time that I felt [overwhelmed]. We kept talking back and forth, there was no time where it felt too big or the game was going too fast.”
The fast department was left for Eaton, who hit the second Ricky Nolasco pitch of the season into center field for a single. He led off the third inning with another single. He didn’t steal any bases and only made it from first to third on a double by Conor Gillaspie, but Eaton still managed to make a pest of himself.
Afterward the energy was still there, but he was level-headed enough to see the big picture.
“It’s one [game],” he said. “It’s a good victory in the right direction. If we would have lost today, it would have been like ‘Here we go again.’ But you see teams go last to first all the time, and it’s all about momentum and getting confidence. Today we swung the bats well against a very good pitcher.”
Worst to first might be a stretch. Moving in the right direction after 99 defeats last year is probably better served as a goal.
“You kind of hear, ‘They are not the White Sox of old,’” Eaton said when asked if he knows about last year’s struggles. “You don’t really get much into it. We are young guys with a mix of veterans and we are going to compete every pitch. That’s our focus. If we can do that, lay it all out there, and it’s got to be good enough. If it’s not, then it’s not.”
It was a new day at the start of a new season, and there were no Sale tantrums anywhere because of a lack of run support. In fact, on one play when Abreu neglected to cover first base, Sale picked up a slow roller on the infield and took it to first himself for the out. After the play, Sale could be seen running off the field with a big smile.
His frustrations were definitely held in check.
“You would bring that up first game of the year,” Sale said when asked what it was like to see White Sox baserunners for a change. “No, it was nice. Eaton being as scrappy as he can, even when he got out it was 10-, 11-pitch at-bats, fighting stuff off. Abreu, I don’t think he hit a ball soft today, so it was fun to watch that and we came out with a win.”
As big as the day was for everybody involved, Abreu was actually the one dealing with the most emotion. He was asked what was on his mind before the game when he was introduced and the crowd roared as he took his place on the third-base foul line.
“That’s very easy, it was my mother,” Abreu said. “She was in my mind. I know she was with me even though she wasn’t here. As a matter of fact, some tears came out when all that was happening. Very simple. It was my mother.”
Abreu wouldn’t say where his mother was at the moment, but did say that she is “somewhere close.”
“You wanted to get that first [game] out of the way,” he said. “It was a very happy moment and the first thing I thought of was my mother.”